Lightning strikes twice as teams sound out familiar tune
It was only a moderately overcast day in Hobart, and there certainly weren't enough in the way of ugly clouds to provoke thoughts that a thunderstorm might be approaching. But lightning nevertheless struck twice today as Australia made its way to a commanding score of 6/411 on the opening day of the Second Test between Australia and New Zealand here at the Bellerive Oval.
Just as he did in Brisbane during the First Test two weeks ago, New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming landed a major blow by calling correctly at the toss and again sending the home team in to bat on a potentially helpful wicket.
Yet, precisely as occurred then, the dream of early wickets quickly proved illusory.
And, once more, it was openers Justin Langer (123) and Matthew Hayden (91) who inflicted all of the immediate damage. Their response upon being sent in amid conditions that should have encouraged rather than discouraged bowlers was to follow a partnership of 224 with one of 223.
An aggressively driving, cutting and hooking Langer reached another three-figure score, thus becoming the first Australian opener to hit centuries in three consecutive Tests since David Boon achieved the feat in 1993. For good measure, he also established a new high watermark for Western Australians, surpassing Kim Hughes and Graeme Wood as the state's most prolific-ever scorer of Test hundreds.
"It's a great honour and, by the end of my career, I'd like to think I would have scored a few more so that someone else can really chase the target," said Langer of the milestone.
"I feel very relaxed batting with Matty Hayden. For whatever reason, I seem to gain some strength from him.
"I'm (suddenly) playing the game now how I'd like to play the game. But probably for the 12 months before, I wasn't playing it as I'd like to.
"You never know what's around the corner. Before the Fourth Test (in England), I was at as (close to) rock bottom as I could have been in my cricket career. You've got to sometimes hit the absolute depths before you can start re-climbing the mountain," he added.
Though significantly more subdued than his partner for long periods of their liaison (Langer was on 58 by the time the Queenslander tallied his second run of the innings), Hayden also exceeded a mark of 90 for the fifth time in his last ten Tests. It represented yet more evidence of his transformation from prolific first-class run scorer to dependable and mature Test batsman.
It was also their third stand together and, like each of the others before it, again swelled beyond the 150-run barrier.
Talk about déjà vu.
On a peaceful afternoon in the most laid-back of all of Australia's capital cities, there were two further sets of repeating twists and turns to come too.
In the space of 14 minutes, the opening combination was not only split but indeed both members were shifted - Langer falling to a mistimed cover drive at Chris Cairns (1/102) and Hayden to a lofted stroke to long on from Daniel Vettori (4/99).
And then, on either side of tea, Mark Waugh (12) advanced and played outside the line of a delivery from Vettori to be comprehensively bowled; Steve Waugh (0) perished, somewhat unluckily, as he padded up at one that cut back in from Shane Bond (1/95); and Damien Martyn (0) continued a horror start to the series when he was trapped in front of his stumps by a flighted ball from Vettori.
Both Vettori and Bond, the latter on Test debut, were impressive throughout this period. The over which yielded Steve Waugh's wicket, in particular, was a brilliant one that had the Australian captain groping, hopping and fending in unfamiliarly hurried style at deliveries of rapid pace and sustained accuracy.
After being 0/223, Australia had fallen to 5/267. Visions of the collapse that saw five wickets fall for 39 runs in Brisbane weren't exactly receding.
It was as well for the locals that Langer (on 1) had been granted another desperately early life - from the very first delivery that Daryl Tuffey (0/58) bowled in the Test match as he slashed a very catchable offering to the right of Matthew Bell at point.
And that they were able to craft a revival, Brisbane-style as well, through watchful defence and sagacious punishment of the loose ball.
Then as now, Adam Gilchrist (39) assisted in no small measure in the cause. Though this time he had not only Shane Warne (31*) to help him. But also local hero Ricky Ponting (92*), with a beautifully measured innings on a ground that had previously yielded the Tasmanian scores of just 4, 0 and 0 in Test cricket.